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U.S. citizenship information for adoptees — the proof, the process, and what you may need to know.

SSA, DMV, USCIS, FAFSA, USDS, USDHS, CCA, COC, CON — what do all of these acronyms have in common? U.S. citizenship, and the need to prove it.  Many of you may have run into trouble recently when trying to prove that your child is a citizen, or have even been told they are not.  Proof of U.S. citizenship is a big issue for adoptees of all ages these days.

Adoptee Citizenship 101

First, let’s review “Citizenship 101.” If an adoptee was born on or after February 28, 1983, and has a finalized adoption that is recognized by the United States, then they are a U.S. citizen.  When the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) went into effect, it granted automatic citizenship to adoptees under the age of 18 as of February 27, 2001.  Although there is new legislation in the works that addresses adoptees born on or before February 27, 1983, it does not affect your minor child’s current status as a U.S. citizen.

Proof of Citizenship

Now, let’s discuss “proof of citizenship.” What documents prove U.S. citizenship?  A valid, unexpired U.S. passport issued by the U.S. Dept. of State (USDS) is technically proof of citizenship. However, Holt is increasingly receiving reports from adoptees and adoptive parents that government agencies are requesting to see additional proof than just a U.S. passport.

A Certificate of Citizenship (COC) or Certification of Naturalization (CON) issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is proof of citizenship. In general, a COC or CON is the most important document an adoptee can have as it is now being required to obtain a passport, apply for benefits or to replace a lost card through the Social Security Administration (SSA), apply for a license through the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in many states, complete a security background check through the Dept. of Homeland Security (USDHS), and to apply for federal financial assistance for college.

Why It’s Changed and Why It’s Important

Next, let’s address the question of “what did I do wrong?” In 90 percent of the cases that come across my desk, the answer is — nothing.  During the adoption process, parents receive information about finalization, re-adoption or re-finalization, obtaining a U.S. birth certificate, and how to obtain a COC if it isn’t issued automatically.  Most parents follow the path just as it’s laid out, and assume everything is set for life. The problem is how much the rest of the world has changed since your adoption, not what you did or didn’t do 15 years ago. Following the events of 9-11 and other immigration issues in the U.S. over the past decade, proof of U.S. citizenship is far more important than ever before.  Everywhere you or your child turn, their citizenship may be questioned.

The final question is, “Why was I told they aren’t a citizen?” Unfortunately, there simply hasn’t been enough education of government officials, health insurers, SSA employees or college admissions offices.  They don’t know there is a difference between a person immigrating to the U.S. through the regular channels and a child immigrating for the sole purpose of adoption — complete with different visa types, regulations and procedures. If your local SSA office tells you that your child’s SSN appears as a permanent resident, which means they are not a citizen, don’t panic. If you have a COC or CON, show it to them and have the status changed to citizen. If you don’t have a COC or CON, contact Holt or your placing agency to find out how to apply for one.

Deb Hanson | Former Holt team member

*updated May 2023

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